European parliamnet

The European elections: why and how?

To vote in the next European elections is to carry on with the work on behalf of peace and prosperity initiated by the European Union’s (EU) founders. The only EU body elected by direct universal suffrage, the European Parliament constitutes one of the EU’s main democratic foundations. A brief overview to explain how to make your voice heard in the next elections.

How do you vote?

In order to vote, you must:

  • be French,
  • be at least 18 years old,
  • enjoy full rights as a citizen,
  • be registered on the electoral roll before 31 March 2019.

If you are a European citizen living in France and wish to take part in the election of French representatives, you must:

  • be at least 18 years old,
  • enjoy full rights as a citizen in France and in your country of origin,
  • be registered on a complementary electoral roll in the municipality where you live,
  • undertake only to vote in France.

The elections in concrete terms

The Parliament is composed of 705 European members, who do not sit by nationality but by transnational policy groups (there are currently 8 in all) and work in the form of technical committees on all the EU’s areas of competence. The Parliament meets about once a month in Strasbourg to vote on legislative proposals.

Members of the European Parliament are elected every five years by direct universal suffrage. Seats are assigned depending on the number of inhabitants in each Member State, with States determining voting procedures, constituencies, eligibility conditions and settlement of electoral disputes. In France, the Law of 25 June 2018 bearing on the election of representatives at the European Parliament reinstated a single constituency (as did most EU countries) in order to ensure political pluralism, reinforce the European character of the election and make it more understandable for voters.

Elections are by direct universal suffrage in a single ballot. Due to Brexit, which is leading to a reshuffling of the European Parliament to the advantage of several underrepresented European States, France will be electing a list of 79 European Parliament members in 2019, five more than in the 2014 elections. Each voter must choose a list from among all those presented by the political parties and groups concerned, with each list having to contain the same number of candidates as there are seats to fill.

Candidates are elected in accordance with the rules of proportional representation, on the basis of lists with the highest average. Therefore:

  • lists obtaining at least 5% of votes have a number of seats proportional to the percentage obtained,
  • seats are assigned to candidates in accordance with their order on each list.

THE European Parliament

When you vote in the European Parliamentary elections, it’s you and no one else who chooses the people who are going to be making key decisions on a daily basis:

  • As one of the European Union’s two legislative bodies, the Parliament may be regarded as “the voice of the citizens” in the EU: along with the Council of the European Union (composed of ministers from the Member States, who meet a hundred or so times a year to debate such fields as agriculture, foreign affairs and economic issues), it decides on legislative acts that have an impact on Europeans’ everyday lives, such as food safety and consumer protection, the environment, and most sectors of the economy.
  • The Parliament votes the EU’s annual budget established with the Council, and may exercise its right of adoption or overall rejection of the draft budget presented to it. It is also responsible for taking decisions on “non-compulsory” expenditures and may propose modifications to “compulsory” expenditures.
  • The Parliament exercises democratic scrutiny over the EU’s institutions (approval of the European Commission, for example).
  • The European Parliament’s approval is also required for most international agreements concluded by the EU. It also helps shape the EU’s development and humanitarian aid policy.
  • In addition, since 2014, the European elections have had a decisive impact on the appointment of the President of the European Commission: in accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon (Article 17 § 7 TEU), the President of the European Executive may now be the chief candidate of the European elections majority party. When they cast their vote, voters therefore not only choose a list of Members of Parliament, they also express their preference for a Commission Presidency candidate.

A few examples of fields in which the European Parliament plays a role:

  • Abolishing roaming fees in Europe.
  • Adopting measures to limit the effects of global warming across the world by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of cars, industry and electricity plants.
  • Protecting copyright in Europe in the digital age.
  • Guaranteeing transparency in trade agreement negotiations between the EU and third countries.
  • Guaranteeing protection of personal data.
  • Defending the “equal work, equal pay” principle with revision of the Directive on posting of workers.
  • Creating the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to combat fraud.
  • Adopting antimoney laundering measures contributing to the fight against terrorism.
  • Setting up a European Coast Guard and Border Guard Agency to control the EU’s external borders.
In 1951, with the aim of putting an end to the wars that regularly devastated the continent, 6 European countries (one of which was France) created the European Steel and Coal Community (ESCC), which gradually united its member countries economically and politically. Born of the Common Assembly of the European Steel and Coal Community, the European Parliament encompassed the three supranational European communities that existed at the time (the European Economic Community (EEC), the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) – both of which were instituted in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome – and the European Steel and Coal Community).
The institution then went through a number of changes, switching from an assembly of appointed members to an elected parliament: members were originally appointed by each of the Member States’ national parliaments, and consequently had a dual mandate. However, at the Paris Summit held on 9 and 10 December 1974, it was decided that direct elections “should take place as from 1978”. The decision and the act bearing on election of European Parliament representatives by direct universal suffrage were signed in Brussels in September 1976. Following its ratification by all Member States, the act came into force in July 1978 and the first elections took place in June 1979.